The most important work of art at the Fair is on display here: Michelangelo's 465-year-old masterpiece in carved Carrara marble, the Pietà, generally held to be one of the finest examples of Christian art in any medium. Installed in Old St. Peter's Basilica in 1499, it had never been taken from the Vatican until the late Pope John XXIII granted permission for it to be brought to the Fair. The pavilion in which it is exhibited is an oval-shaped building topped by a cross, with a curving wall extending from the entrance. The pavilion and its contents have as their theme, "The Church is Christ Living in the World."
The Vatican pavilion proved to be the most popular of the religious exhibits at the Fair; in fact, it was the second-most popular pavilion overall, with General Motors being the first ranked. A very visible location next to the Astral Fountain and at the bridge to the Lake Amusement Area certainly helped, but by far the largest reason for its success was Michelangelo's Pietà. (CD #49 Set 217 #5)
The Masterwork. The Pietà represents the body of Christ in the arms of His mother just after He was taken down from the cross. The work, six feet long by five feet nine inches high, is shown in a setting created by stage designer Jo Mielziner. Spectators are carried past it on three moving platforms at different heights. There is a walkway for those who wish to view it at their own pace.
Landing the Pietà was a major coup for the Fair. Numerous articles were written about the logistics of getting the piece crated and shipped to the Fair, which contributed to the interest. Thousands of visitors of many different religions lined up daily for a glimpse of the statue, with many going back for repeat visits. (Vatican slide D-1)
The Great Ceiling. In the final ground floor are the celebrated Life magazine transparencies of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling and a photo exhibition on Catholic sacramental life. In separate kiosks are displays of coins and stamps having a religious significance, including the private collection of Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York. (CD #8 Set 39 #31)
The Chapel. The mezzanine floor is a Catholic chapel seating 300 persons. Mass is said each morning, and the chapel is open through the day. Near the front is a statue of the Good Shepherd that comes from the Catacomb Era of the Third Century. It is among the earliest existing sculptural representations of Christ.
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd was a popular stop with visiting Catholics. Most photographs are sure to include a few visiting nuns in the crowd. (CD #TBD Set 380 #1)
While most of the pavilions that once filled the Fair site have vanished without a trace, a graceful marble bench marks the former site of the Vatican pavilion. (CD #2 Set 8 #52)
Want more information on the Vatican pavilion?
10-31-62 - Ceremonies booklet
4-20-64 - 'Pieta' Unveiled in Glow of Blue
Business Screen magazine 6-14-65 - Dedication of Father Mendel Garden of Heredity
9-27-65 - Fear for Pope's Safety to Curtail Fair Visit
11-14-65 - The Pieta, After Hazards, Is in Place in St. Peter's
Official Guide Book
(Courtesy of Jim Brown)